Late October is a great time for ghost hunting… and not just on Halloween.
October 20th is also the wedding anniversary of Elva Zona Heaster and her murdering husband, “Trout” Shue.
If I were in West Virginia and could investigate her grave (or his), I’d be there on October 20th. Anniversaries usually trigger extra ghostly activity. And, when the wedding soon led to murder… well, that improves the odds of an eerie graveside investigation.
Elva Zona “Zonie” Heaster is one of the few documented, ghostly detectives.
According to her mother – and the jury at Trout’s trial – Elva solved her own murder.
Elva was born in 1873 at Greenbrier, West Virginia (USA) to Jacob Hedges Heaster (1847 – 1917) and his wife, Mary Jane Robinson (1849 – 1916).
Elva was one of nine children in the family, and the elder of two girls. (Elva’s sister Lennie was born seven years after Elva.)
Elva was also one of the county’s most beautiful young women.
Her first boyfriend was Albert Carr. (He later married – twice – and named his daughters Elva and Zona. So, it seems like he never quite got over Elva Zona Heaster.)
Elva may have married George Woldridge. They had a baby boy in November 1895. The child may have died or been raised by someone else. The records aren’t clear about the baby’s fate, if George was Elva’s husband, or what happened to George.
A year later, Elva fell in love with Erasmus Stribbling “Trout” Shue, who’d been born in 1861 in Augusta, Virginia. (His parents were Jacob and Elizah Shue.)
Evidence suggests that “Trout” was a heart breaker – and perhaps a wife-murderer – even before he arrived in town and courted Elva.
Trout had already been married to Allis (or Allie) Estilline Cutlip, Lucy A. Tritt, Ellen Estilline Cutlip, and Annie Williams. (Ellen and Allis may have been one person. Like many records of that time, spelling errors are commonplace.)
His first marriage (to Allis) ended in divorce, with cruelty cited.
His second wife (Lucy) died suddenly, hit on the head “by a falling brick.”
It seems as if most of Trout’s neighbors believed he’d killed Lucy, but they had no proof.
The other one or two wives… I haven’t found records for either of them, yet.
So, Elva was Trout’s fourth or fifth wife. (Apparently, his goal was to marry seven women.)
Trout was described as a drifter, and worked as a blacksmith near Elva’s home.
The couple married on October 20th, 1896, about a year after Elva’s baby (with George Woldridge) had been born.
From the start, it appears that Elva’s mother was uneasy about the ever-so-charming Mr. Shue. In fact, some accounts say that Mrs. Heaster hated Trout on sight.
Then, on January 23rd, 1897 – shortly after the couple had been married just three months – Trout sent a boy to the Shue house on an errand. The boy found Elva, dead at the foot of the stairs.
By the time the doctor arrived, Trout had already brought Elva upstairs to her bed, wrapped her neck in a bright-colored scarf, and generally prepared the body for burial.
(The reference to the scarf, and the odd, flat appearance of Elva’s hair, face, and neck, suggest that the photo – near the top of this article – was taken after she’d died. Postmortem photos were common in some regions, as a memento of the deceased.)
Because Trout seemed so distraught at his wife’s death, the doctor did only a cursory examination. He decided that Elva had fainted and fallen down the stairs to her death.
(Only later were questions raised about the blood near her body, and the possibility that she was pregnant when she was killed.)
Elva was buried in an unmarked grave at Soule Chapel cemetery.
About a month after Elva’s death, over a period of four nights, her spirit appeared to her mother, Mrs. Heaster.
Elva’s mother said that Elva looked like she was “flesh and blood,” not a ghost.
Elva explained to her mother that Trout had killed her. To confirm that she spoke the truth, Elva told her mother several things that her mother could not have known at the time . And, to demonstrate that Trout had broken her neck, Elva (the ghost) rotated her head in a full circle.
Elva’s mother visited the sites Elva had named, and verified the details that Elva had shared. Everything confirmed that Elva’s spirit really had visited her mother.
So, Mrs. Heaster went to the county prosecutor and convinced him to open Elva’s grave for an autopsy.
As expected, it turned out that Elva’s neck was broken, but her windpipe had been crushed as well. She hadn’t been the victim of a fall.
Trout was charged with murder. On July 11th, 1897, he was sentenced to life in prison, where he died of an unknown epidemic on March 11th, 1900.
Elva’s mother’s story never wavered. She always insisted that her daughter’s ghost had appeared to her, and revealed the murder.
The story is so odd, I believe her.
Where is Trout Shue buried?
If you’d like to investigate the prison cemetery, it’s part of Whitegate Cemetery. You’ll find it along Tom’s Run, about 3/4 of a mile from the main route into Moundsville on Fourth Street.
Where is Elva Zona Heaster Shue buried?
To investigate Zona’s grave, go to Soule Chapel Methodist Cemetery. It’s in Meadow Bluff, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, off the old Kanawha Turnpike. (I recommend checking other parts of that cemetery, as well. She’s probably in the family plot, but – since the grave was unmarked for more than 80 years – it’s not her guaranteed location.)
- West Virginia Penitentiary Tours: Greenbrier Ghost. (That’s one of the most complete and accurate accounts.)
- The Greenbrier Ghost: Zona’s Revenge
- Elva Zona Heaster: The Ghost Who Helped Solve Her Own Murder.
- Wikipedia: Greenbrier Ghost
- Theresa’s Haunted History: Soule Chapel Resting Place.
- Find-A-Grave: The grave of the Greenbrier Ghost, Elva Zona Heaster.
- Ancestry.com: Erasmus Stribbling Shue.
- RootsWeb.com: Elva Zona Heaster.
- Ancestry.com: More Lessons from the “Greenbrier Ghost.”
For the full story, read The Man Who Wanted Seven Wives – The Greenbrier Ghost and the Famous Murder Mystery of 1897. That book presents the most thorough account of the entire story.
Or, if you’d like to read more about the Greenbrier Ghost and others, I recommend Haunted Homeland: A Definitive Collection of North American Ghost Stories.
The writing style is colorful and the stories are well-researched.